Senate panel OKs bill that would freeze electric rates

A Senate committee on Monday approved a bill that would exempt Dominion Virginia Power from financial regulation and freeze electric rates until 2023.

The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee voted 14-1 in favor of Senate Bill 1349. It now will be considered by the full Senate.

The bill enjoyed bipartisan support from committee members: 10 Republicans – including the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Frank Wagner, of Virginia Beach – and four Democrats voted for it; Sen. Stephen Newman, R-Forest, voted against it.

Afterward, Dominion Virginia Power officials pointed to a list of groups that support the legislation. They range from the Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce to the American Red Cross of Virginia and the Virginia branch of the NAACP.

The bill was the focus of debate among utility officials, environmentalists and state utility regulators at a subcommittee hearing last week.

Dominion officials say the bill would help the company comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. The plan, to be finalized this summer, would require Virginia to cut carbon dioxide emissions from 1,297 pounds to 810 pounds per megawatt hour – a 38 percent decrease. Dominion says it wants to accomplish this without passing the costs on to customers.

To achieve the cuts mandated by the EPA, Dominion said it may have to close four power plants. Utility officials estimate that would cost $2.1 billion.

Without SB 1349, Dominion would pass those costs along to consumers by raising rates. That’s allowed under current Virginia law, subject to a biennial review by the State Corporation Commission. The SCC examines Dominion’s rates every other year to make sure the company isn’t “overearning” – that is, reaping excessive profits.

However, Dominion says it wants to protect consumers from higher rates triggered by the costs of the Clean Power Plan. That is where SB 1349 comes in: It would freeze rates and eliminate the SCC’s biennial reviews. Under this plan, Dominion says, its shareholders, instead of customers, would shoulder the costs of closing power plants.

But some state officials don’t buy the utility’s rationale.

For one thing, the legislation doesn’t allow any plants to close during the period that Dominion would be freed from financial regulations, said Ken Schrad, director of information resources at the SCC. And if Dominion did have to close a plant, he said, the existing regulatory process is sufficient to help ease the impact on customers.

“The commission, under the current regulatory structure, has the tools to deal with such a situation,” Schrad said, “should the company have to close an existing facility and the cost would need to be passed along to ratepayers. That tool allows the commission to spread these costs out over a period of years so that there is no rate shock that occurs to the customer.”

Last Thursday, at a meeting of the Special Subcommittee to Examine the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, Maurice Jones, Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade, wondered aloud whether allowing Dominion to go without review was a responsible decision.

“Not being able to review for six periods is the issue,” Jones said. “Is suspending reviews the most prudent course?”

The biennial reviews have at times determined that Dominion was overearning and resulted in refunds to customers or a reduction in rates. One way the company has overearned is by taking in more money than it needs to cover its facility costs.

“This utility has over-recovered, and has historically over-recovered,” said Angela Navarro, staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Glen Besa, director of the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter, disputed Dominion’s assertion that the EPA’s rules would raise the company’s costs and the specter of higher rates. “We believe Dominion is using the EPA Clean Power Plan to sidestep a review of its rates,” Besa said. “This could result in a windfall for Dominion.”

But Dominion officials said SB 1349 would benefit consumers. Indeed, they said that under the legislation, the average residential bill would decrease from about $116 a month to $109 – about $25 below the national average.

“The goal of Senate Bill 1349 is to stabilize rates and protect consumers through a period of significant uncertainty,” according to a fact sheet distributed by the company.

– Matt Leonard and Benjamin May are reporters for the Capital News Service.
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Challenger Day will get students with disabilities onto the field

Students from 22 Henrico County elementary schools will take to the baseball field Oct. 18 and learn how to field, hit and run the bases. The students will take part in Challenger Day, an annual event at the Tuckahoe Park Baseball Complex that introduces students with significant disabilities to the fundamentals of baseball. The students will also enjoy games, an art project, roaming mascots and a picnic lunch. > Read more.

Business in brief

Eisenman & Associates, Inc. employee Tracie Grady recently was named the 2017 Virginia Business Meeting Planner of the Year. Grady was chosen by a committee of industry leaders among 19 nominees. The award is a partnership between Virginia Business magazine and the Virginia Society of Association Executives. Its goal is to recognize the unsung hero of the association, non-profit, and business world, the professional meeting planner. Grady works with clients in a number of areas, including membership management, publication design, membership directories and convention/tradeshow programs. She has worked in the association industry, primarily focused on meeting planning, for more than 20 years. She is a graduate of VCU. Eisenman & Associates, Inc. is an association management and meetings consulting company. > Read more.

Lakewood to break ground on $64M expansion

A senior community in Henrico's Far West End is planning a massive expansion project.

Lakewood, located on Lauderdale Drive, will break ground on the project Oct. 19 during a celebration that also will commemorate the community's 40th anniversary. > Read more.

Henrico to hold Oct. 19 workshop on Route 5 Corridor/Marion Hill Study

The Henrico County Planning Department will hold a workshop Thursday, Oct. 19 for residents and other members of the public to provide additional input for a study of the Route 5 corridor and Marion Hill areas.

The workshop will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at John Rolfe Middle School, 6901 Messer Road. The meeting will include an overview of community input received so far and an explanation of how it is reflected in the study’s draft goals and objectives. > Read more.

Nominations open for REB awards for principals

Nominations are open for the 2017-18 REB Awards for Distinguished Educational Leadership, The Community Foundation’s yearly awards that identify, recognize and support leadership excellence in the Richmond area.

Honorees receive an unrestricted $7,500 cash grant, and $7,500 to be used for school initiatives. Nominees can be principals from public schools in Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover counties and the city of Richmond who have served in their current positions for at least three years. > Read more.

Henrico Business Bulletin Board

October 2017

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North Park Library will screen “The Witches” (1990, PG, 81 minutes) from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. A boy stumbles upon a convention of witches with his grandmother. Based on the Roald Dahl book. Suggested for ages 9 and older. For details, call 501-1970 or visit Full text

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